My take on the 5 Main Types of Yoga

Ever been asked what style of yoga you practice and found yourself at a loss for words? 

I get it. 

It IS complicated. There are so many styles, many to which teachers attach their names and ways Sanskrit terms have been co-opted in our modern world to mean something different from their original intent. There is also overlap in the styles. 

In IOY Yoga Teacher Training, we discuss the different styles of yoga. It’s often a revelation even for long term dedicated students. Check out the chart below with more detailed explanations below it. 

Alignment Hot Flow (Vinyasa) Power Spiritual
Iyengar Bikram Viniyoga Ashtanga Kripalu
Anusara Hot Baron Baptiste Sivananda
Hatha Core power Kundalini
Jivamukti Svaroopa

I came up with this chart as a means to simplify things a bit. As I see it there are five main types of yoga, with different styles within those types. The alignment based, which originated with BKS Iyengar. Iyengar yoga stresses long holds in poses with attention to body mechanics and how best to align your body in each pose. Iyengar pioneered the use of yoga props (blocks, straps, etc) to make yoga more accessible to a wider variety of physical abilities and body types.  John Friend, who created Anusara yoga was a long time student of BKS Iyengar. 

Something that makes this all even more confusing is the term Hatha. Sanskrit words are often layered in meaning. One translation is to break down the word, ‘Ha’ means sun and ‘tha’ moon, thus hatha is the holding of opposites – strength and ease, effort and surrender, etc. The word also translates as stubborn or willful, so that hatha incorporates practices that involve the body and the breath. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is considered to be the oldest living text on Hatha Yoga.  It describes postures (asana) and breathing practices (pranayama) and purification techniques (Kriya) as well as different energies in the body. Thus the original meaning of hatha encompasses all of the styles of yoga listed in this chart. 

However, in yoga studios today hatha is often listed as a specific style that is offered, generally meaning a more gentle, slower moving practice. But different studios have different meanings. I have seen it offered in a hot room too so it needs to be further investigated when signing up for such a class at a new studio.

Hot yoga began with Bikram Choudhury and was originally called Bikram’s yoga. In Bikram yoga the room was heated to 102-105. 26 postures were led, followed by a shavasana and repetition of those 26 postures. Bikram yoga is no longer offered as Bikram was sued by his students and lost his rights to what he had humbly (just kidding, I don’t think Bikram did anything humbly) called ‘The Yoga College of India’. However there have been many spinoffs where the room is heated, but there is more variation in the postures taught, thus the listing in the chart of “Hot”. 

The chart does have its limitations. Power yoga is really a form of flow. Both synchronize breath with movement throughout a class. However Power yoga is characterized by a more physically demanding approach. Where viniyoga is intended to be therapeutic and works with using the breath to slowly approach and back off from a pose in a flow movement, power yoga is dynamic movement that repeats a vigorous flow between poses. The power flow generally includes some variation of, downward dog to chaturanga to upward dog back to downward dog and on to the next pose.

The styles I’m putting in the category of spiritual are ones where teachers emphasize alignment less and spiritual connection more. While all yoga, well ideally, all yoga has a spiritual basis, these styles talk about it more, such that you are encouraged to follow your inner guidance in a pose rather than getting detailed instruction on alignment. In many of these classes release by way of groaning or sighing or yawning is encouraged. There is generally a guru at the heart of it, where other styles’ originators are more often referred to as teachers.

Additionally, where do we include restorative yoga and yoga nidra? Restorative yoga was also created by Iyengar. Though alignment is not so stressed here. It is all about getting comfortable so that you can relax deeply and nourish your nervous system. Yoga nidra is not a hatha practice. Its roots trace back to Sankhya philosophy (1000BC). Sankhya was a dualist philosophy and yoga nidra began as way of exploring the duality between witness and that being witnessed. Yoga nidra has undergone many modifications since that time and continues to evolve today.

All of this being said. It is much more common that you will experience a blend of styles in your yoga class. I personally have studied Sivananda, Kripalu, Iyengar, Anusara, Yoga Nidra, restorative yoga and to a lesser extent Kundalini, viniyoga and hot yoga. When you take class with me you get a blend of all of these styles, though the strongest emphasis is on proper alignment with the aim of taking good care of your body, rather than achieving an ideal pose. Of equal importance in my classes is being kind to yourself. While this is truly an overarching theme of yoga, you may find that attitude to be more or less present depending on the teacher and the vigor of the style. Come join us and experience IOY style for yourself!

I hope this provided some clarification. Any questions? I’d love to hear from you!

Kim Trimmer

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